My Secret Weapon: Wonder Spouse Photography

Winterhazel flower cluster close-up

All avid gardeners have their secrets for producing a great garden. Some of us save our own seed and bulbs, nurturing a plant line until it is maximally adapted to flourish in our garden. I know a farmer’s market vendor who has done this with the garlic variety he sells. Garlic can be tricky to grow in the middle of NC, but he has laboriously saved the best bulbs from his crops every year, until now his entire crop laughs at the wild swings in temperature and moisture levels that challenge growers in my region.

Some gardeners add secret ingredients to their soils that they swear improve the vigor of their plants. Others plant only on certain phases of the moon. The list of gardening tricks and secrets is likely as long as the list of experienced gardeners.

I have my own little secrets and tips, many of which I have shared here. Early on, I realized my greatest asset — my secret blogging weapon, if you will — is the magnificent photography of Wonder Spouse.  The best photos on this blog are all ones he has taken of the plants and animals who dwell with us on our five-acre patch of North Carolina Piedmont.

In going through my files today, I realized that he had given me a number of gorgeous photos that, for one reason or another, I haven’t shown you. Today, I am rectifying that oversight by sharing some of Wonder Spouse’s recent work, starting with that opening image.  To fully appreciate these photos, click on them to see enlarged versions.

He took that close-up of a cluster of Winterhazel flowers in the middle of March. It took his artistry (and his fancier camera) to convey what I tried to describe to you here.

In mid-April, he took this gorgeous shot of a flower bud cluster of Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’ before the flowers opened:

Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’

Even at this stage, you can tell it’s going to be a knock-out. I showed you an open bloom cluster from this year here and told you more about this cultivar here.

At the end of April, Wonder Spouse took several breath-taking photos that I want to share. This first is of an evergreen rhododendron that was growing beside our back deck when we moved in 23 years ago. I think it’s R. maximum, the species common to our mountains, and I doubt it’s a named cultivar. Somehow, it has managed to flourish beneath the enormous Northern Red Oak that towers over our home. This shrub is now twelve or so feet high and eight feet wide, and it blooms reliably despite near complete neglect on my part. Here’s Wonder Spouse’s shot of an open flower cluster during peak bloom last week:

A pollinator enjoys R. maximum flowers

Wonder Spouse is a big fan of Amaryllis cultivars. Many years ago, we bought several choice varieties, and they’ve been multiplying in their pots ever since. I overwinter them in the greenhouse and bring them inside or decorate our back deck with them when their thick bloom stalks appear. Here’s a close-up of the flowers of Amaryllis ‘Picotee’ that are still blooming on our back deck:

Each flower is about six inches across and equally long

To close, I want to share this “glamour shot” of one of the bearded iris varieties that thrive in our yard despite my less-than-optimal care. I’ve long forgotten the cultivar name, but the flowers are a lovely coppery orange color. I cut a stalk full of buds and put it in a vase on our kitchen counter, where we could appreciate its beauty and its gentle, sweet scent. One evening last week, Wonder Spouse was inspired by the effect of the overhead counter light on the iris bloom. Without bothering with a tripod, he photographed this iris in our darkened house. I think you’ll agree he captured the essential exquisiteness of this bloom:

Beauty caught between light and darkness

Thus, I have revealed my blogging secret weapon for all to see: the photography of the amazingly versatile Wonder Spouse. He makes our garden and yard look far better than I ever could show you with my pictures or words, and I deem myself the most fortunate of gardeners to be able to call upon his many talents.

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